Back to work? - Look After Yourself!

10th January 2019

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It can be easy to forget to look after ourselves as we leave our summer break behind and get back into work. Here are some ways that can help.

The Five Ways to Wellbeing help people stay mentally well. 

They were created as a result of the New Economics Foundation's (NEF) Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing research report.

NEF conducted a review of the most up-to-date evidence and found that building five actions into day to day lives is important for the wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and organisations. The five actions are:


Your Time. Your Words. Your Presence.

Giving is more than just the sharing of material things with others. It is about cultivating a spirit of generosity and promoting active participation in social and community life. Volunteering and community involvement has been strongly linked with positive feelings and functioning. Helping others, sharing one’s skills and resources, and behaviours that promote a sense of purpose and team orientation have been found to help increase self-worth and produce a positive emotional effect. Giving is important for all age groups. It helps develop strong social cognition in children, a sense of purpose and self-worth in adults and particularly older people who have left the workforce and have time to offer.

Be active

Do what you can. Enjoy what you do. Move your mood.

Research shows a strong correlation between physical activity and increased wellbeing, as well as lower rates of depression and anxiety. It is now viewed as essential for people of all ages and has been shown to slow age-related cognitive decline. Two women holding hands and ice-skatingEvidence suggests that physical activity can increase self-belief, the ability to cope with difficult situations and provide a sense of mastery. It can also have the benefit of encouraging social interactions. Physical activity does not need to be particularly energetic to be of benefit. Moderate exertion three to five times a week can significantly reduce symptoms of depression, but improvements can also be seen from single bouts of exercise of less than 10 minutes.

Keep learning

Embrace new experiences. See opportunities. Surprise yourself.

Learning, remaining curious and setting goals is important for all ages. For children, it leads to positive cognitive and social development, while for adults it can lead to improvements in self-esteem, social interaction and a more active and involved life. It has also been shown to be effective in preventing depression in later years. Adult learning in particular includes elements of goal-setting, which is strongly associated with higher levels of wellbeing. This is particularly true when goals are self generated, positively focused and align with personal values. Learning is more than just an activity for formal education. It can include any approaches to maintaining curiosity and an enquiring mind.

Take notice

Appreciate the little things. Savour the moment.

Developing skills that increase awareness of what is immediately happening – both physically and mentally, within and around us – can improve wellbeing. Even short courses teaching simple techniques can enhance wellbeing for several years. Much research has been done on mindfulness, which has been shown to have positive effects that include heightened self-knowledge. It suggests that an open awareness is particularly valuable for choosing behaviours that are consistent with one’s needs, values and interests. Alignment to one’s values is also an effective way to ensure that behaviour change becomes embedded over time. Specific approaches that have been shown to enhance wellbeing include gratitude, forgiveness, reflection and the development of meaning.


Talk and listen. Be there. Feel connected.

Feeling close to other people and valued by them is a fundamental human need. Across all ages, relationships and participation in a social life are critical for mental wellbeing and effective buffers against mental disorder. Strong social relationships are supportive, encouraging, and meaningful, and a wider social network is also important for feelings of connected-ness and self-worth. The key message of Connect is that giving time and space to both strengthen and broaden social networks is important for wellbeing. The wellbeing of individuals is bound up in the wellbeing of their communities, so actions that focus solely on individual, inward-looking benefits will not be as effective as those that stress the importance of fostering relationships with others.

"Regularly practising the Five Ways is beneficial for everyone – whether you have a mental health problem or not."

Why the Five Ways work:

  • Connect: Strengthening relationships with others and feeling close to and valued by others, including at work, is critical to boosting wellbeing.

    man at work with sticker on head saying be happy

  • Keep Learning: Being curious and seeking out new experiences at work and in life more generally positively stimulates the brain.
  • Be Active: Being physically active, including at work, improves physical health and can improve mood and wellbeing and decrease stress, depression and anxiety.
  • Give: Carrying out acts of kindness, whether small or large, can increase happiness, life satisfaction and general sense of wellbeing.
  • Take Notice: Paying more attention to the present moment, to thoughts and feelings and to the world around, boosts our wellbeing.

The Five Ways in action:

  • Connect with the people around you.                          With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours.
  • Keep Learning. Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Take on a new responsibility at work.
  • Be Active. Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Garden. Play a game.
  • Give. Do something nice for a team mate. Thank someone. Volunteer your time.
  • Take Notice. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment.

The Five Ways to Wellbeing at Work Toolkit

Mental wellbeing is one of the most valuable business assets. Workplaces that prioritise mental health have better engagement, reduced absenteeism and higher productivity, while people have improved wellbeing, greater morale and higher job satisfaction.

The Five Ways to Wellbeing (Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning, Give) are proven to help people find balance, build resilience and boost mental health and wellbeing. The Five Ways to Wellbeing can also support workplaces to meet their health and safety obligations to manage risks to mental health and wellbeing. We wish you every success using the toolkit to create a flourishing workplace!

The Mental Health Foundation and Health Promotion Agency developed the toolkit in partnership to enable New Zealand workplaces to flourish. 

The Five Ways to Wellbeing at Work Toolkit includes fact sheets, tips, tools and templates to make it easy for you to support your teams to build the Five Ways into their daily lives. The toolkit can be downloaded as one document or in sections.


Related: Wellbeing | 23 Ways To Be Happier | 20 Ways To Revive Positive Energy 


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